Happy birthday, Terry Gilliam!

Happy birthday, Terry Gilliam!
Terry Gilliam is one of the most eclectic artists of the seventh art. Born in Minneapolis on November 22, 1940, he is a director, comedian, writer, producer and… so on and so forth. A unique artist who has had, over time, a great professional evolution in almost fifty years of honorable career. Let's find out together what characterized the life and career of one of the most visionary geniuses of contemporary cinema, including laughter, gags, visions from the future and a literary past that have revolutionized, for better or for worse, the way of making films even in twenty-first century.

Terry Gilliam, an “animated” life

Terry Gilliam's visionary adventure in the world of cinema begins with Monty Python of which he is the only American member. The collaboration with the famous British group of comedians will lead Gilliam to great success, even going so far as to direct one of the Monty Python films in 1975. We must not, however, overlook the fact that he is also a great expert in animation. In fact, the director's figurative taste owes a lot to the animation techniques he loves, such as stop motion and découpage, but also to surrealist collages.

Colors are extremely important in Gilliam's aesthetic choices. The careful use of certain colors and scales of colors and shades give his films a cartoonish flavor that we cannot find in any other contemporary author. Each frame of his films looks like a painting inspired by different figurative artistic currents, where lines and colors come together to give life to a sublimated visual effect, which makes the work a sort of moving picture.

If this predilection for colors and chromatic scales was perhaps not clear in the first films, it certainly is in Gilliam's latest cinematographic experiments, to quote one film above all, Parnassus. Film that gave the American director, British by adoption, many problems. The work began in 2008, the year in which Australian actor Heath Ledger passed away, during the shooting of the film. This huge loss for Terry Gilliam has sanctioned the interruption of production work. Production of the film will resume, and then end, only when the director decides to assign Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law three different incarnations of Tony (the character initially played by Ledger).

Gilliam, however , is not new to these diatribes with the producers of his films. Already in 1988 with The Adventures of the Baron of Munchausen, the third chapter of the trilogy begun in 1981 with The Bandits of Time and continued with Brazil in 1985, the director clashed bitterly with Columbia Pictures, the film's producer, for the continuous changes of the budget for making the film. The story tells us that in the face of almost fifty million dollars invested in the production, only eight were allocated for the promotion of the film, a choice that cost Columbia a very serious economic loss and that made The Adventures of Baron Munchausen one of the worst flops in the history of cinema.

Details that make the difference

Almost all of Terry Gilliam's cinematography is based on details, sometimes even infinitesimal that seem almost to count for nothing, but which, instead, give life to the whole story, frame by frame. This is the case, for example, of Brazil, one of the most popular films by the American filmmaker. The film brings together Gilliam's two greatest sources of inspiration, George Orwell and his 1984 novel and Federico Fellini's dream cinematography. The film is an imaginary of contrasts that unfold from time to time to provide the viewer with something never seen before. It was 1985 when Brazil was released in theaters and from there nothing was more or the same. Let's start, for example, with the photography of the film, inspired, as the director himself says, by Fritz Lang's Metropolis, but Gilliam's is not a totally dystopian film, much less sci-fi, it is more of an exaggeration, yet another power, of reality itself.

An exaggeration that becomes, however, hypercritical realism towards contemporary society, which highlights the flaws of a system that seems known when, on the contrary, it is very little. The extreme idealism of a society where the "good life" is granted only to a few, induces simple human beings, poor and rejected, to realize what is a revolt against the same ideals. Everything, in Gilliam's film, is subtle, nihilistic, irony cuts the screen and the conscience of the viewer and no longer allows him to be aware of what is right or wrong.

This dualism is a constant in Terry Gilliam's cinema accompanied by that dose of satire that makes the narrative always ambivalent and even more reflective than the films taken as undisputed masterpieces of the dystopian genre such as Blade Runner. Gilliam, unlike other directors, uses satire to show the harsh reality of the facts and the motivations that make up action as the ultimate goal of man. The director does not get lost in the lyricism of the narrative moment, on the contrary, he breaks it down and makes it multifaceted, criticizes and assimilates it, through irony which, therefore, becomes political and social denunciation.

The films of Terry Gilliam you must see

We have extensively talked about the importance of Brazil which is the spearhead of Terry Gilliam's cinematography. But, the work of the English director by adoption cannot be reduced to a single film, indeed it is necessary to broaden the range of action and mention some of the works in which he appears as an actor. According to Gilliam (in a not very recent interview with Variety magazine), the peak of his career is to be identified with Brian of Nazareth, where the director appears as an actor and screenwriter along with the late Terry Jones of Monty Python. The film is absolutely unmissable and is one of the works that, through satire, best represents the birth of religions and cults in general.

Another milestone is certainly The Legend of the Fisher King, a 1991 film with Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. A moving story full of real visions, in fact, the homeless played by Robin Williams is a very intelligent man, but with serious mental problems. He suffers from hallucinations and declares that the gnomes have identified Jack (Bridge) as the one who will find the Holy Grail. Hence the title of the film which is a clear reference to the cycle of novels that talks about Breton and Arthurian matter.

To be seen at least four times in a lifetime is certainly Fear and Delirium in Las Vegas, a film in which we find Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro at the top of their acting form. Gilliam takes the viewer on an unprecedented dreamlike and hallucinogenic journey. The effects of drugs on the two protagonists of the film are described as the genre of gonzo journalism wants, completely unfiltered and particularly faithful to the novel from which the story is drawn, written by Hunter Stockton Thompson.

We cannot fail to mention The Army of the Twelve Monkeys, a thriller that marked the genre in the nineties and Parnassus - The man who wanted to deceive the devil latest interpretation of the late Ledger.

Gilliam's is an eclectic and heterogeneous work that has touched upon the most different genres, becoming a litmus test of many tastes from the 1980s to today. A great mind and a great visionary who made cinema worthy of being called art.

To brush up on Terry Gilliam's cinematography, we recommend purchasing the film The Legend of the Fisher King.

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